Oh, to go to sea in a beautiful pea-green boat … The classic children’s poem, The Owl and the Pussycat by Edward Lear, has been a family favourite for many years; I used to read it to my son, Alex, at bedtime. It weaves its quirky magic in every line, taking us on an extraordinary journey to an imaginary land, ‘where the Bong Tree grows’. It’s got everything we could wish for in life: adventure, food and drink, money, music, dance and romance. It’s also stars two of our favourite creatures, an owl and a pussycat, plus a pig and a turkey.
In 1846 Lear published A Book of Nonsense, a volume of limericks. In 1871 he published Nonsense Songs, Stories, Botany and Alphabets, which included his most famous nonsense song, The Owl and the Pussycat. It was either written for his patron, the Earl of Derby’s daughter OR three-year-old Janet Symonds, daughter of Lear’s friend, poet John Addington Symonds. The term runcible, used for the phrase “runcible spoon”, was invented for the poem.’ (The Owl and the Pussycat – Wikipedia)
Many artists have illustrated the poem since it was published in 1871, including Lear himself. He was a talented artist and became an ‘ornithological draughtsman‘ getting work with the Zoological Society and then from 1832 to 1836 with the Earl of Derby, who kept a private menagerie at his estate. We have a beautifully illustrated version of The Owl and The Pussy Cat by Ian Beck (see top). His brightly coloured paintings bring this charming nonsense poem alive in a delightful way. (We also have another Ian Beck illustrated Lear poem – see The Jumblies). Read the poem and remind yourself of Lear’s literary quirkiness!
The Owl and the Pussycat